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Military Justice: 2/82 legal advisors partner with Iraqi counterparts

November 6, 2011

By Sgt. Kissta Feldner

Laws are ever-changing. It is important for those involved in the legal system to communicate with each other, have up-to-date knowledge of the law, and be able to represent their clients to the fullest extent. Attorneys with the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, met with their Iraqi counterparts to set up those lines of communication.

Members of the 2/82's legal team, Capt. Matthew Laird and Capt. Nathan Macht, met with members of the 1st Iraqi Army Division's legal team and the Anbar Operations Command legal advisor Brig. Gen. Saleh, at the AOC on Nov. 1. The 2/82 "Falcon Brigade" advisors have met with Saleh and Iraqi judges throughout their deployment in support of Operation New Dawn, but this was their first meeting with 1st IA legal advisors and their counterparts at higher headquarters.

It was important to establish an environment in which ideas and concerns could be openly exchanged between Saleh and legal personnel at the division level, said Laird, the brigade trial counsel and native of Denver, Colo. "We're trying to set a precedent," he said. "We encourage them to continue to meet, talk about new developments and conduct training after U.S. Forces are gone."

This conference gave the IA legal advisors an opportunity to discuss any issues they have encountered and how they are dealing with them. It also allowed the "Falcon" team to see the similarities between the IA's judicial system and their own, and ways they have transformed American systems to better suit their own needs.

"We adopted most of our legal practices from coalition forces," Saleh said through an interpreter.

One of these practices was administrative punishment for Soldiers. The IA didn't have a standardized system to penalize Soldiers for minor disciplinary offenses, said Macht, the brigade's operational law attorney and native of Chicago, Ill. U.S. legal advisors at the highest levels of the govnerment helped the IA form a system similar to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; Soldiers who step out of line can receive extra duties, lose pay, or be confined to their installation, just like in the U.S. military.

This process, however, was creating a large workload for the IA legal officers, who were dealing with judicial cases, courts-martial and casualty assistance -- up to 750 cases every month. They created a new position, assigning an officer to handle all administrative punishment.

"They're taking our suggestions and trying to implement them. If it doesn't work, they adapt it and set up a system that works for them," Laird said.

The IA has also taken steps to ensure Soldiers accused of crimes receive unbiased representation. An Iraqi servicemember being prosecuted is appointed a defense counsel from Baghdad who does not answer to the Soldier's chain of command. This means the attorney cannot be influenced by the leadership, and will represent the Soldier fairly, Laird said.

"This shows that the Iraqi legal system is dynamic and willing to adapt," he added. "This is very positive."

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